On 22 May 2013 at approximately 14:20 local time, a man was run down by a car before being stabbed and hacked to death by two men with knives and a meat cleaver. They then dragged his body on to the road and waited for police to arrive, telling passers-by that they had attacked a soldier to avenge the killing of Muslims by the British military.
The killing took place on a street in Woolwich in southeast London. The dead man was identified as Lee Rigby, an off-dutybandsman in the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers of the British Army. The two alleged assailants were shot by police officers who arrived at the scene, and taken to hospital in serious condition. Both men are native Londoners of Nigerian descent. Politicians and religious leaders including those of the Muslim community condemned the attack.
|2013 Woolwich attack|
The pub and the tower block on Wellington Street near the attack
|Location||Woolwich, Royal Borough of Greenwich, London, England|
|Date||22 May 2013
14:20 BST (UTC+01:00)
|Injured (non-fatal)||2 (the suspects)|
|Suspected perpetrators||Michael Adebolajo
Male and female alleged co-conspirators
The attack occurred at 14:20 in Wellington Street, near its junction with John Wilson Street, part of the South Circular Road (A205) in Woolwich. Drummer Lee Rigby, a soldier of the 2nd Battalion of the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers, was off duty at the time and reportedly wearing a “Help for Heroes” T-shirt. He is believed to have been deliberately hit by a Vauxhall car, then attacked by two men with knives and a meat cleaver. Women later stood over the body of the man, trying to protect him from further attack. The attackers, who were 22 and 28 years old, later stood around, waving knives and a gun, and asked people to take pictures of them. Ingrid Loyau-Kennett, a passenger on a passing bus, was one of the first people on the scene. While the two men were awaiting a police response, Loyau-Kennett tended to the victim, who later died. She engaged in a conversation with the attackers, one of whom said to her: “We want to start a war in London tonight.” She asked the men to hand over their weapons, which they refused.
The soldier killed in the attack was later named as 25-year-old Lee Rigby of the 2nd Battalion of the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers. Rigby, from Middleton, Greater Manchester, had served in Cyprus, Germany and Afghanistan before becoming a recruiter and assisting with duties in the Tower of London. He had a two-year-old son.
The attackers waited for 15 to 20 minutes for armed police to arrive and reportedly danced over the body, while one of the men asked passengers on a bus to take photographs of him. When armed police arrived, the man with the machete charged at police and was shot by a female officer, while the other did the same with a gun and was also felled by police marksmen. Channel 4 News had broadcast footage showing the two perpetrators having shouted “Allahu Akbar“. The MP for Greenwich and Woolwich Nick Raynsford said that the victim was a soldier at the nearby Royal Artillery Barracks. He also said: “The situation is clearly a very very serious one indeed. One individual is dead and two others are seriously injured and apparently in hospital.” The Guardian newspaper reported that the Ministry of Defence was frustrated with the comment as it would have preferred to have told the family of the victim before the media. The attack took place 300 to 400 metres (980 to 1,300 ft) from the barracks perimeter.
One of the attackers, who was captured on video by a passer-by, said:
The only reason we have killed this man today is because Muslims are dying daily by British soldiers, and this British soldier is one, is a eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. By Allah, we swear by the Almighty Allah we will never stop fighting you until you leave us alone. So what if we want to live by the Sharia in Muslim lands. Why does that mean you must follow us and chase us and call us extremists and kill us? Rather you lot are extreme. You are the ones. When you drop a bomb, do you think it hits one person or rather your bomb wipes out a whole family. This is the reality. By Allah, if I saw your mother today with a buggy I would help her up the stairs. This is my nature. But we are forced by the Qur’an in Sura at-Tawba [Chapter 9 of the Qur'an], through many, many ayah [verses] throughout the Qur’an that [say] we must fight them as they fight us, a eye for a eye and a tooth for a tooth. I apologise that women had to witness this today, but in our land our women have to see the same. You people will never be safe. Remove your governments. They don’t care about you. Do you think David Cameron is gonna get caught in the street when we start busting our guns? Do you think the politicians are going to die? No it’s going to be the average guy, like you, and your children. So get rid of them. Tell them to bring our troops back so we ca.., so you can all live in peace. Leave our lands and you will live in peace. That’s all I have to say. Allah’s peace and blessings be upon Muhammad.
Both of the men have been confirmed as Londoners of Nigerian descent. One man has been named as Michael Adebolajo, a 28-year-old, born in Lambeth, London, of Nigerian descent. He studied sociology at the University of Greenwich and converted from Christianity to Islam. The other was named as Michael Adebowale.
In addition to condemning the attack, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe called for calm and a “measured response” while adding “we have met with community representatives, and extra officers remain on duty there tonight. Across London our officers are in contact with their communities too.” Simon Letchford, a Metropolitan Police Commander, later issued a statement that read: “I can understand that this incident will cause community concerns, and I would like to reiterate that we are investigating what has taken place today. … I am asking people to remain calm, and avoid unnecessary speculation.”
The Prime Minister David Cameron cut short a visit to Paris to chair a COBRA meeting. The Ministry of Defence issued a statement that it was urgently investigating the incident. The Home Secretary Theresa May subsequently chaired a meeting of the COBRA committee. The COBRA meeting was attended by the Defence Secretary Philip Hammond, the Mayor of London Boris Johnson, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe, the Metropolitan Police Assistant Commissioner Cressida Dick and other unnamed members of the intelligence agencies.
After Cameron’s arrival, a second COBRA meeting was held, following which he said:
This country will be absolutely resolute in its stand against extremism and terror. This action was a betrayal of Islam and the Muslim communities that give so much to our country. We will defeat violent extremism by standing together. We will not rest until we know every detail. [The attackers told Ingrid Loyau-Kennett that] they wanted to start a war in London and she replied, ‘you are going to lose, it is you against many. She speaks for all of us.
Queen Elizabeth II was said to be “concerned” by the report of the attack. The Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, the Home Secretary Theresa May and the Leader of the Opposition Ed Miliband condemned the attack.
The British National Party leader Nick Griffin posted a series of Twitter messages blaming “mass immigration” for the attack and calling for a protest rally in Woolwich. After the English Defence League called on its supporters to mobilise, the same evening over 100 of its members staged a protest at Woolwich Arsenal station in which bottles were thrown at police. Individuals were also arrested in two separate incidents at mosques in Essex and Kent. Speaking in response to the incidents, Julie Siddiqi of the Islamic Society of Britain expressed fears the far-right would use the attack as a way of creating community divisions. An additional 1,200 police officers were deployed across London to prevent revenge attacks on minority communities.
Religious leaders expressed their concern: the Bishop of Woolwich the Rt. Rev. Dr Michael Ipgrave said he was “deeply saddened and distressed”. Muslim leaders denounced the attack: the Muslim Council of Britain said the attack “has no basis in Islam and we condemn this unreservedly”; the head of the Ramadhan Foundation Mohammed Shafiqalso condemned the attack; and the director of Faith Matters and co-ordinator of the government-backed anti-Islamophobic project “Tell MAMA” said: “We as the Muslim community will work against anyone who promotes such hatred.” Baroness Neville-Jones, a former security minister and chairman of the British Joint Intelligence Committee, and Colonel Richard Kemp, a former Army commander, suggested blame could be put on internet hate preaching. Neville-Jones told the BBC Radio 4‘s Today programme that “the inspiration that comes from internet hate preaching and jihadist rhetoric … is a very, very serious problem now.”
The BBC News political editor Nick Robinson quoted a government source that had described the perpetrators as being “of Muslim appearance” during the 22 May edition of the BBC News at Six. The BBC received 43 complaints after Robinson used the term; it was also picked up by other media outlets. Robinson issued the apology the following morning.
Asghar Bukhari, of the UK Muslim Public Affairs Committee, said the British government was “completely denying that it has anything to do with the political situation around the Muslim world”.
In an interview with Reuters, the British Islamist Anjem Choudary assigned blame for the attack to British foreign policy, stating that the assailant “said it all in that clip…. He blamed Cameron and he blamed the army and the authorities, and he said that British public should do something about it because they’re not doing anything in their names. From the statements that he’s made himself, it’s clear that that was being targeted. The cause is clear – it’s the British foreign policy.”
Although the British MP George Galloway stated that the attacks were “indefensible”, he tweeted that it was “exactly what we are paying the same kind of people to do in Syria.” In an interview with Russia Today, Brian Becker, the national coordinator of the anti-war coalition ANSWER, agreed that British foreign policy towards the Middle East had created an “escalating cycle of violence.” Becker also stated that “The British colonial past and its current legacy of intervention and war is undoubtedly a factor” in the motivations behind the attack.
The Independent Police Complaints Commission said that it would investigate the incident as per normal circumstances. The IPCC investigate any incident in which police discharge a weapon. Investigators said that they were searching six houses: three houses in Greenwich, south London; one house in Romford, east London; another house in north London and a property in Lincoln in central England.